Are You Prepared For The Worst? A true story of disaster

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How much thought do you put into your riding pack? We all know the risks in riding bikes, and I’m sure many of us share the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude. I’m only doing a local loop, I know it like the back of my hand. I’m at a trail centre, there will be people around. The weather is mild, I won’t need an extra layer. 

Let’s revisit a recent trip I had to Leeds Urban Bike Park with a few friends for a lazy days riding. It was very windy and LUBP is a great way to avoid exposure, and just the weather in general. On our first loop we rolled up to the quarry and were discussing the line options, acknowledging the amount of riders with no helmets on (not uncommon for LUBP), and trying to decide if the quarry drop had been made bigger. At that moment, a man rode off it and didn’t land on his wheels – he landed on his face. He didn’t move for a good thirty seconds, and when he did show signs of life they came in the way of spine tingling groans.

It was 11.15am and an ambulance was called by one of my friends, subsequently meaning we needed to stay with the victim for when they called back.

Meet the team:

  • Ollie – Victim. Cyclocross racer
  • Dan – Good at spooning, fussy about tea
  • Chris – Motorbike racer, just getting back into mountain biking
  • Lee – Good at taking control whilst remaining calm
  • Aaron – Hot drink connoisseur. Never panics
  • Vicky – Very good in a crisis. Always has snacks
  • Me – Emergency First Aid for Outdoors and AED trained. Naive, underprepared

First hour

Myself and Vicky went to the top of the quarry to stop people riding the line Ollie was strewn across. It was a bit windy, we attempted some yoga to keep warm and did some online research into Ohlins shocks.

Down below, Lee had called an ambulance and Dan was talking to Ollie, trying to gauge the extent of his injuries. A couple of coats were put over Ollie to keep him warm. The general mood was an understanding of how badly injured Ollie was, but no real concern for getting him to a hospital promptly because LUBP isn’t exactly remote.

Second hour

Vicky and I blocked the line with a log because we were too cold to stay up in the exposed area. More coats were added to Ollie and I insisted on Dan and Chris getting under them with him for a makeshift bivvy to create more heat, despite Ollie saying he wanted his head out. A foil blanket was carefully tucked underneath Ollie who it turned out was laid in a boggy puddle. Helpful suggestions that we should call an ambulance came from riders that were passing through the quarry for a third time.

The mood hadn’t changed much. Jokes were being made to keep Ollie smiling. Several ambulances had been heard in the distance which was frustrating, but kept us thinking ‘any second now’.

Third hour

The false sense of security that came from being at a heavily trafficked bike park had worn off. Vicky and I went to the carpark to get a stove and some blankets out of the vans. Aaron made hot water bottles, and had enough water left to offer Dan a hot drink. Lesson learnt – events like this have a knock on effect and you can soon end up with more casualties to the cold. With all the focus on Ollie, we hadn’t realised that Dan had been laid in the same position for several hours without a coat on.

Fourth hour

Paramedics had called Lee back to check in on the situation. Still no sign of an ambulance, one rider that had passed through the park decided to drive up in his Defender and present a bivvy bag, build a fire and offer general support to us all.

Four hours and fifteen minutes after the initial call, our ambulance arrived. One paramedic acknowledged the fire and asked how long we’d planned on being there. When she found out how long we had been supporting a suspected spinal injury from a man now colder than the weather itself, she was shocked to say the least.

With help from a few of the lads from Team Ollie, the paramedics got him strapped onto a stretcher, carried him out of the woods and safely got him to a hospital where he spent the night. The fractured skull, broken clavicle and lung contusion made us all really glad we stayed the course with him, but also relieved to hear that his spine was intact.

This day left us all very aware of how wrong things can go, regardless of where you’re riding. Despite being five minutes from the hub café, the car park and hundreds of people, when you have a man that can’t move you are isolated. No amount of clothing can keep someone warm when they’ve had all their adrenalin drain out of their system while lying in a puddle. Lots of people looking after you are as good as no people if they don’t have the right equipment to help you with.

With that in mind, I am rethinking my riding pack with a little advice from Chipps:

  • Bivvy bag – they pack down as small as an a grapefruit, there’s no valid excuse to not carry one on a day out
  • Basic first aid kit – Pain relief, antihistamine, bandages, foil blanket
  • Sugary snacks
  • Extra layers and a hat. You might be fine in just a jersey, but what if you have to sit still for an hour or two?
  • Notepad and pencil borrowed from IKEA. Useful for recording your location, phone numbers, names – and for taking an order for getting the drinks in at the café.
  • A charged phone with some way of knowing where you are – whether that’s a GPS or a phone app like GB Converter that can give you a grid reference for the emergency services.

That’s it! That would have been more than enough for the four hour ordeal above, and it fits in a hip-pack with room to spare.

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Comments (17)

    Great Article, thanks. I’m glad Ollie wasn’t as badly injured as you feared and I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery.

    This kind of scenario plays on my mind a lot, as I am not getting any younger, still chucking myself around mountains/hills, and ride with mates of varying ability.

    None of us carry any first-aid kit, it’s been nagging me for ages that I really should. Especially the bivy bag.

    As I am the most experienced biker in my riding group, they default to letting me lead – that means both the ride route (and hence difficulty of terrain) and also usually helping with mechanicals etc.

    I have put off going for any kind of mountain bike guide training as I am not super rad, sick or gnar, but as I so often lead I think there are many things I could learn that would help avoid any potential issues.

    I’ve also had the misfortune to be on rides where a mate properly broke themselves (necks + other major bits). Twice. Not an experience I want to repeat, and in both the one thing that would have bene of benefit is the bivy bag.

    thanks for publishing.

    Great article and glad Ollie wasn’t too badly hurt, it’s this kind of thing that made myself and a riding buddy who work at the same place to become first aiders for the basic training. The what3words app is a good one for getting your location to the emergency services aswell, we had to use it once and it helped immensely in the middle of nowherr.

    Very informative, you should always weigh up the risks when riding alone, the quarry drop isn’t huge but if riding it blind, well this scenario proves that you should assess what’s ahead when riding solo.

    As much as I enjoy LUBP, Dalby, Bike Park Walea etc I also think that it should be mandatory for all trail centres to have a medical centre with staff proficient in assessing the situation and taking the appropriate action, this particular situation played out in favour of the casualty as he was riding a heavily used trail centre and that good people made a decision to help.

    Be careful out there people.

    Just goes to show how quickly things can go South. I hope Ollie makes a speedy recovery. Props to the team and Defender Guy for helping him out.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I’ll take it as a reminder to check my first aid kit and book a first aid refresher.

    Great article and sure makes you think. I take less gear when going to somewhere like lubp.

    Out of interest did anyone try asking for mountain rescue ?

    Great article. Sounds very familiar, I had a bad crash at Rogate bike park, stopping square on my head on the landing ramp from about 20mph to 0. It took 1.5hr for the ambulance to arrive and the two technicians onboard wanted me to get up an walk out! I was kept warm on the ground by fellow MTBers who, tbh, did more than the ambulance crew. Long story short, took 2.5hrs from the point of the accident before I was eventually on a stretcher and on the way to hospital – where I spent the next 5 days with 2 broken vertebrae, fractured sternum, popped ac joint and serious bruising. 7 weeks on I am still recovering and just glad I can walk. Stay safe and help others, the advice in this article is a great start.

    I’m a bit surprised that the takeaway here is “we should have been better prepared” when you were basically riding in a city. It seems the bigger question here is what the heck went wrong to mean you were waiting that long for an ambulance in the middle of a city? Especially with a suspected spinal injury!

    While being prepared isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it feels pretty dystopian when we’re having to think about carrying first aid kits and bothy bags to ride around a city in case we need to wait for an ambulance!

    @delusional Ambulances can be pretty poorly equipped to access some areas, and staff don’t have the same training as mountain rescue teams. Doing outdoor first aid training with one, I as told “If the casualty’s more than a hundred metres from a road, you’re probably going to need us to get them to the ambulance”

    Can’t believe that you had to wait so for an ambulance. I know funding is bad but still, that’s too long

    What you’re showing in the picture is a bothy bag, not a bivvy bag. In a situation like that, particularly with a group, a bothy bag is a much better item to have

    A good article, I carry a basic first aid kit, and foil blanket, but will look into Bivvy bags (can you do a article ;0) ) I carry big stickon dressings that are ideal for knees and elbows and can get 5or6 for a quid at Asda/Tesco, same for antiseptic packs, Handed a few out at LUBP before.

    It amazes me the lack of skill of many riders going off that drop, it’s clear many people are prepared to spend money on big travel skill compensators and not on coaching sessions .

    Holme valley Mountain rescue where there only a few weeks ago 8th Feb

    Definatley a lesson for us all im sure.

    The worrying thing is how long it took for the ambulance. Were you on the phone that time? its shocking?

    Also great work on stopping the others coming down the path.

    Just out of curiosity. As the first aider why wernt you with the casualty?

    Also how did the ambulance find you?

    Probably worth flagging this up from a few years back – a bit more info on when/how to call out Mountain Rescue (if in doubt do it – they will not mind!)

    Phoning for mountain rescue does not always mean they will come. I once had an accident on the Pennines 3 km from the nearest road. Called and asked for mountain rescue (it should have been Penrith to cover where I was) but they insisted an ambulance could get to where I was, MR in their Landy defender could but an Ambulance no chance.

    To make it worse the guy on the ambulance was not fit enough to carry his own medical case up the hill to me. Lucky for me somebody was able to carry his kit up the hill for him. He then just called for the air ambulance because he could not get me back to the Ambulance.

    I got lucky, it was a cold December day and I landed in a small river but was carrying a bivi bag that just about kept the cold off in the 1 hour plus I waited.

    I was awake and able to direct my own help but was in a bad enough way to need 48 hours in an ICU afterwards.

    The person I rode with didn’t have their phone with them and did not know my unlock code.

    That experience changed how I approach all rides, local or otherwise and what I expect of the people I ride with.

    The air ambulance was ace, just a shame they strapped me down and I did not get a view on the flight.

    I was going to suggest what3words as well – but I have been beaten to it. Good read and well done for stopping to help out.

    I’m actually fairly strongly against what3words, just get the OS locate app or even google maps will give you long/lat.

    My problem with w3w is that they haven’t filtered the word set enough for communicating over a bad phone line outside. It took me about two minutes of random word entering to find dice.puncture.apart and dices.puncture.apart that are both in the Highlands of Scotland but not in any way close. If I was relying on giving someone a location I think I’ll stick with good old fashioned map coordinates.

    packing a pack with useful stuff is important.

    But what isn’t really discussed here is what fully to do in this situation.

    I don’t know the situation in this instance and what was relayed between parties. But for anyone in a similar situation in the future: Information you relay to 999 is also vital. If there are suspected head or spine injuries, bleeding etc tell the operator.

    I had a similar situation with a friend a couple of years ago. The paramedics were with us within an hour.
    First aid training is useful for anyone.

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